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12 December 2019

Is Verizon’s Wavelengths deal different from AT&T’s Azure partnership?

Verizon was not the only major operator signing up for Amazon Web Services’ Wavelengths edge/5G proposition at re:Invent. Other operators which were acknowledging the wisdom of making a friend out of AWS, rather than investing in a go-it-alone cloud/edge strategy, were Vodafone in Europe, KDDI in Japan, and SK Telecom in South Korea. All three will launch deployments in 2020 and AWS promised “more global partners” to come.

Vodafone says it will run AWS Wavelength “in strategic locations” within its 5G network, starting in the UK and Germany.

“With Europe’s largest 5G network across 58 cities and as a global leader in the IoT with over 90m connections, Vodafone is pleased to be the first telco to introduce AWS Wavelength in Europe,” said Vinod Kumar, CEO of Vodafone Business. “Faster speeds and lower latencies have the potential to revolutionize how our customers do business, and they can rely on Vodafone’s existing capabilities and security layers within our own network.”

More names are sure to follow in 2020, but not all operators are taking the AWS route. Some will hold out in building their own cloud and trying to seize as much of the value chain for themselves as possible – China Mobile, Reliance Jio, possibly Telefónica (if it can leverage Unica, its homegrown cloud platform, for external services as well as its own networks), and Deutsche Telekom, via its T-Systems integration arm, combined with its EdgAIR and MobiledgeX properties (see Wireless Watch December 4 2019).

Others are making partnerships with Microsoft Azure, including AT&T, or Google (for instance, Telecom Italia).

The AT&T partnership is an important one to watch, for telcos in many markets, because the US operator has been a leader in developing edge architectures and developer platforms, including Akraino (now a Linux Foundation open source project). Despite a strong position in edge developer technologies and an aggressive 5G build-out program, AT&T feels the need to sign multiple cloud partnerships, the most strategic being with Microsoft Azure.

The two companies have started to pilot a network edge computing (NEC) service platform based on a combination of the Azure cloud and AT&T’s network locations. This will enable Azure services to be delivered closer to the users via the AT&T cloud and virtualized network, with 5G connectivity to be part of the mix in future too.

So while Verizon claims its Wavelengths project is the first of its kind in the USA, it has many resemblances to its rival’s deepening relationship with Azure, originally announced in July.

Earlier this month, the companies opened up previews of their NEC technology for selected partners in Dallas, with Los Angeles and Atlanta set to follow early next year. This “weaves Microsoft Azure cloud services into AT&T network edge locations closer to customers”, as the partners put it. AT&T recently switched on a 400Gbps 5G connection between Dallas and Atlanta to support applications such as advanced gaming.

“With our 5G and edge computing, AT&T is collaborating uniquely with Microsoft to marry their cloud capabilities with our network to create lower latency between the device and the cloud that will unlock new, future scenarios for consumers and businesses,” said Mo Katibeh, CMO at AT&T Business, in a statement. “We’ve said all year developers and businesses will be the early 5G adopters, and this puts both at the forefront of this revolution.”

Like Verizon, AT&T is targeting gaming as the low hanging fruit for edge cloud, since it builds on existing user bases and content relationships. AT&T and Azure are working with Game Cloud Network, which has created a 5G app called ‘Tap & Field’. This uses Azure PlayFab services to support a game in which users race in near-real time in various track and field events.

Game Cloud Network CEO Aaron Baker said: “AT&T and Microsoft are building the perfect environment for game developers to create amazing new possibilities for gamers. 5G and edge computing have the potential to radically change how we play together and launch new business opportunities for brands and game publishers.”

AT&T has been enhancing its telco cloud to support Azure, and Microsoft is helping it to fulfil its aim of being a “public cloud-first” company by 2024, at least when it comes to IT and business support applications. Network functions such as virtualized RAN and core are moving to the cloud too, but are likely to stay on private infrastructure until the results of the IT transition are seen.

The operator also has a deal with AWS to provide joint cloud/5G/security systems to enterprises, in an arrangement which clearly shows a major telco acknowledging the need to play to its strengths, carving up the enterprise opportunity between itself and cloud partners, in a bid to keep Verizon out.